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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Walking In His Ways – The Footsteps of G-d

אֶת יְהוָה הֶאֱמַרְתָּ הַיּוֹם לִהְיוֹת לְךָ לֵאלֹהִים וְלָלֶכֶת בִּדְרָכָיו - דברים כו:יז

כִּי תִשְׁמֹר אֶת מִצְו‍ֹת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ וְהָלַכְתָּ בִּדְרָכָיו - דברים כח:ט

Twice in Parshas Ki Savo we are told to “walk in the ways of Hashem.” How could we walk in the ways of Hashem?

The Gemara in Sotah (14a) delineates the actions of Hashem: He clothes the naked (Adam and Chava) visited the sick (Avraham Avinu) comforted the mourning (after Sarah’s death), buried the dead (Moshe Rabeinu) and so on. The Gemara states that by doing these things we will be considered walking after Hashem.

The Gemara in Shabbos (133b) states “one should be similar to Hashem; just as He is compassionate and merciful so should you be.”

Then we have the Rambam. Maimonides (Deos 1) spends several paragraphs explaining how people have various character traits, some natural, some culturally influenced and some self taught. He advises that one find the exact middle path equidistant to the extremes of each trait and practices that middle. For example, some people are always very jolly and some are perpetually sad. One should find the exact balance between those two and that is the correct path. [Perhaps the Rambam doesn’t mean the middle path as much as the balanced path. One should have the proper reaction called for in every situation].

The Rambam extols one who is able to do this: He is a Chacham (wise) and a Shalem (whole). Says the Rambam “We are commanded to walk in these middle paths, and they are good and straight, for it says ‘you shall walk in His ways’. (Our passuk!)

He then says that this is what Chazal meant when they said just as he is merciful you too should be merciful. The Rambam adds a whole list of traits to this list: Holiness, kindness, strength, wholesomeness, etc.

There is a glaring question here. How is walking the middle path the way of Hashem? And how do we jump from walking the middle path to emulating Hashem’s traits?

[Indeed in Sefer Hamitzvos Aseh 8 the Rambam codifies walking the middle path in all character traits as a positive mitzvah of walking in His ways].

Every person is created in the image of G-d. This would mean, that there is a built in capability in every human being to be Godlike. This concept explains the Gemaras quoted above that show us what the traits and actions of Hashem are so that we know what we are able to do and what levels we are supposed to reach.

Along comes the Rambam and says: Don’t think that the only goal is to emulate Hashem, even the pathway to emulation is unto itself a Mitzvah! Of course the ultimate pinnacle of perfection is to be totally Godlike, but even the pathway to that goal is a Mitzvah. And that pathway is found by choosing the middle, balanced approach to every situation. And that is the Mitzvah of walking in His ways.

Indeed, the Sefer Hachereidim records this as Mitzvah that can be performed every moment of every day by everyone. Because in every situation that we are faced with, in every decision we make, if we choose the proper balanced approach we are maximizing our potential as a Tzelem Elokim, an image of G-d, and that is a positive commandment. (c.f. Daas Torah Bamidbar p.225)

Interestingly, Rav Saadiah Gaon doesn’t count this as a mitzvah, and explains that it is included in “veahvta es Hashem Elokechah” loving Hashem. Perhaps we can explain this with R Yeruchem Levovitz’s explanation of ‘walking in His ways’. R’ Yeruchem explains that if someone loves and respects someone immensely, be it a teacher or a public figure, they start imitating them, even subconsciously, because they want to be like them. (Imagine bochurim talking like their favorite Rebbe). If one loves and respect Hashem properly, they almost automatically will try to be like Him. Hence it is included in the mitzvah of loving Hashem!!

This time of year, when there is a special closeness between the Jewish Nation and Hashem is perhaps the most auspicious time to intensify our efforts to walk in His ways and emulate His traits.

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Meet Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber

Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch HaberRabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber is sought after by all who know him for his Halachic and practical advice. His keen ability to put complicated matters into a digestible perspective coupled with his ability to get the facts, make him the perfect blogger to help us all “Do It Right”.

A native of Buffalo, NY, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber spent his childhood globetrotting with his family. His pioneering spirit first surfaced in Melbourne, Australia, where he was excited to be a member of the opening class of Mesivta Bnei Torah. From Australia the Haber family settled down in Monsey, NY. Ever the maverick, Tzvi promptly left home to study in Yeshiva Ohr Hameir in Peekskill, where he became a mainstay of the Yeshiva, and inspired his younger brothers as well as several friends from the Mesivta in Melbourne to follow him. He then joined his chaburah in Jerusalem, first at the Mir Yeshiva and then at the Bais Medrash of Rav Dovid Soloveitchik, a senior scion of the famed Brisk dynasty. As his globetrotting family returned to Jerusalem, Tzvi returned to the US, to freeze in the famed, yet comparatively chilled Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood.

 In 2004 he met his wife, Suzanne Schor, a native of the warmer Los Angeles climate, and the couple settled in Lakewood, where he focused his pioneering and independent strengths on the study of Halacha, or Jewish law. His innovative spirit and innate ability to help others seeking to clarify the finer points of Judaism and integrate them into their daily lives inspired his decision to commute daily from Lakewood to the Lower East Side of Manhattan in order to bask in the day to day exposure to the world renowned Posek, HaRav David Feinstein. The daily commute was more than compensated for when he received Semicha from Rav Feinstien and the Kollel L’Torah U’lhorah (a division of Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem) in Tamuz 5768, June 2008.

In August 2009, the Habers moved west, heading toward Los Angeles where Rabbi Haber joined the LINK-LA Kollel. After being an active member of the Kollel for several years, he joined the business world, however he is still actively involved in teaching and learning in LA.

Actively involved in all aspects of TorahLab, Tzvi has taken upon himself a quasi-role as administrator of quality control and has effectively improved and upgraded many of the smaller yet vital details involved in our site. His advice is eagerly sought and gracefully given.

Rabbi Haber is now living in the La Brea section of Los Angeles with his wonderful family. He can be contacted at tzvi@torahlab.org